Lupe Fiasco • Tetsuo & Youth • Atlantic • US Release Date: January 20, 2015
Cutting straight to the chase, Lupe Fiasco’s fifth studio album, Tetsuo & Youth is arguably the MC’s most epic album yet. Sure, Food & Liquor will forever by the Chi-town MC’s ‘ace in the hole,’ but Tetsuo & Youth is special from the first listen. One of the marks of a great hip-hop album is one that essentially requires the listener to continually listen, study, and analyze what the rapper is spitting. Lupe Fiasco is not one to “Dumb it Down,” which is what makes Tetsuo & Youth truly a gem. It likely won’t appeal to those who like their hip-hop ‘stupid’, but definitely should stimulate those who’ve been starving for salivating lyricism and depth.
First it should be noted that a lengthy essay could be written to fully analyze this complex album. Look no further than the nine-minute rap clinic of “Mural,” where Lupe is ON –Fire that is! Talk about an ambitious way to kickoff an album. The “Mural” is nothing short of ornate and show stopping and beyond such characterizations, there’s little else to say.
Lupe makes the prudent musical choice to ‘bring it down’ a bit on “Blur My Hands,” where he collaborates with Australian soulful pop musician Guy Sebastian. Lupe never ‘sells out’ by any means, but “Blur My Hands” has a higher level of accessibility compared to “Murals.” Having a hook – not to mention elite pipes on that hook – truly rocks. He follows up with the lavish word play and poetic “Dots & Lines,” yet another winning performance. Not only does Lupe reference mathematics, but he also references religion/spirituality, and being in a vulnerable, unfamiliar position (“The mind fears what the blinds hide / but I’m here on the blind side”). One word – genius!
Following jazzy instrumental “Fall,” “Prisoner 1 & 2” finds Lupe doing what he does best – rapping like a champ. Specifically on “Prisoner,” Lupe doesn’t refrain from brutal honesty, arguably adding more grit to his intellectual rhymes. This includes the biting, accusatory “Preacher preaching to a fag**t with his d**k out” and “a hundred hoes, one shovel and some old treasure.” As Lupe balances his higher-level rhymes and accessibility, “Prisoner 1 & 2” benefits from two sensational hooks, one for each part.
“Body of Work” has more contemporary production cues than previous tracks. Furthermore, it is arguable that Lupe’s flow is grittier and more aggressive to match the backdrop of which he raps atop. Still, even with ‘tweaks,’ Lupe is still good for the cerebral, even if he slips in “motherf-cker this better than sex” following a reference to “Oedipus Rex (wrecks).” Nikki Jean assists Lupe on “Little Death,” closing her hooks with the French phrase, “petit mort,” which means “little death” but is often associated with orgasm. Read into the lyrics and references to death, relationships, sex, and being ‘in chains’ all fit. Crazy!
Keeping momentum high, “No Scratches” continues the Lupe lyrical assault, once more locked down by a memorable hook and assertive, propelling production work. Relationships play impactful roles here, as Lupe states, “all of your memories can become enemies…but let’s get outta that, before it’s injuries.” Ultimately, Lupe and Nikki Jean conclude, “before we hit a wall, heartbreak and it crashes / just walk away no scratches.”
After interlude “Winter,” “Chopper,” a nine and a half minute street joint contrasts everything up to its arrival. Firmly planted in modern rap sensibility with malicious, unapologetic rhymes, it’s a shocking listen on a Lupe Fiasco album. But for anyone who considers the multidimensional MC as one dimensional in his penchant for brainy raps, well he can do it all. He gets plenty of help too: Billy Blue, Buk of Psychodrama, Famlay, Glasses Malone, Trae tha Truth, and Trouble. “Filet mignon with my food stamps!”
As accomplished as “Chopper” may be, the next three songs are near perfect. “Deliver” is a clear-cut standout, doing ‘work’ and clocking in just under four minutes. As truthful as the hook is, it’s also humorous: “The pizza man don’t come here no more / too much dope / too many niggas on the porch / so the pizza man don’t approach.” Then Lupe switches gears on the beautiful “Madonna (And Other Mothers in the Hood)” where Lupe talks about Mother Mary, references mothers in general, and tells the tale of a mother’s son killed and her reaction to his demise. It’s heavy, but definitely thought provoking.
The third gem of the bunch may be the most elite in “Adoration of the Magi” which certainly ranks among the best within Lupe’s career as a whole. The rhymes are spot on with Lupe at his word-slaying best, and the hook is awesome. “Why you ready to die? You just a baby / why them tears up under your eyes? You just a baby,” Lupe sings on the hook, “These Magi adore you… Why you wanna be born again? You just a baby / Why you playing in the streets? You just a baby.” Brilliant times infinity.
Penultimate number “They. Resurrect. Over. New.” Is chocked full of energy like everything else, though doesn’t achieve the same ‘next level’ of the previous four (“Chopper” through “Adoration of the Magi”). Still, it’s not knock-worthy either as its soundly produced, features solid vocals courtesy of Troi, and of course brings on Ab-Soul. Following “T.R.O.N.” is “Spring,” the fourth and final season of Testuo & Youth – fitting, right?
All said and done, it’s safe to say that Lupe Fiasco is on some ‘next level’ aka Tetsuo & Youth is truly incredible. If this ends up being Fiasco’s final album for Atlantic Records, well it’s a damn good one. Yes, its long – arguably too long – but at least offering the rare 80-minute album, Lupe Fiasco knows how to deliver without questions asked. Home run!
Favorites: “Blur My Hands,” “Dots & Lines,” “Deliver,” “Madonna (And Other Mothers in the Hood)” and “Adoration of the Magi”
Photo credits: © Atlantic, instagram / lupefiasco